The Write Stuff

I’m a slow writer and I need many drafts to create something that I feel is worthwhile.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following this blog for some time. I’ve explicated my writing process on several occasions, and over the years while the materials have changed (I RARELY do literal cut and paste jobs anymore), the methods certainly haven’t.

This might come as a surprise to anyone who realizes that I’m a blogger and puts two and two together. Blogging is a sphere which, of necessity, requires you to develop content quickly and efficiently. So how can a blogger be an admittedly “slow writer”?

Now let’s start here: I’m not talking George R.R. Martin slow. In fact, I think that guy ought to be ashamed of himself. My beloved did the math at one point and determined that Martin produces something like 250 viable words a day. WHAT? If I wrote that slowly, they would boot me from my program and make me wear a sign of shame around my neck to tell the world that I was an embarrassment to the ivory tower and writers everywhere. When I say “slow”, I mean more that I need many many drafts to forge and re-forge a piece of academic writing in order to temper it and make it stronger. I’m up to something ridiculous like fifteen drafts of one piece I’m working on right now (don’t worry, I’m about to hit the “send” button on that one, so before you get lecturey about over-drafting just stop and take stock of the fact that I’ve been working on it for a year and a half now because it’s been interspersed with other projects).

Academic writing is completely different from any other style of writing. When I blog, for example, I generally require one hour from inception to publication of a post. This includes

This morning's drafting session

This morning’s drafting session

research. When I write creatively, I produce a preliminary draft of content very quickly and go back over it a few times before I feel like others can lay eyes on it (more like three drafts than ten). I can produce 2,500 words of first draft creative fiction in about an hour. More disposable content, like facebook and twitter updates, are just banged out in about point five seconds.

Each of these styles of writing is important to one’s development as a writer. I believe that writing is an under-appreciated and under-developed aspect of the academic work. While we’re expected to generate writing at pivotal points in our career, there’s very little support (unless you create it yourself) for exercising and bettering your writing. So many academics hold their writing process to close to the chest that it’s often difficult to trouble-shoot your own process. I have taken to asking mentors and peers, at conferences or other socially appropriate forums, what their writing process is like just to get new ideas about things I could do better. I’ve learned a few tricks (some of them more palatable than others; there is no way in any universe that I’ll be waking up at 6AM to fit in three hours of just writing before I go about the rest of my day but I’m glad that it works for some people), and I’ve mostly learned this: everyone’s process is different. Much like a workout regime, some basic rules apply universally: repetition is a must, sustainability is key, and knowing when to push yourself and/or rest will help you be more productive in the long run. Other than that, just do it. Find whatever works for you, and get going. Do it today, do it tomorrow, do it the day after. Keep writing; the only way to fail here is by inaction.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that once I get to the drafting stage, I can roll home without much problem. Drafting time is my favorite point in the writing process. This is the point where I get to take my colored pens and hone my work until it’s shiny and better than it was before. There’s something so satisfying about the instant gratification of taking a piece of writing and making it be better. There’s also an immediate visual cue that red-penning a page gives you; “LOOK HOW MUCH I CHANGED! THIS IS HOW MUCH BETTER IT IS NOW!” In a field that functions so basically on intangible items, this kind of tangible and visible change is a welcome breathe of fresh air and something that I, kinesthetic learner that I am, desperately need to feel satisfied.

Also, when I draft, I can take my work for walks. It keeps me focused to have a stack of papers in front of me and no internet to distract. I take my draft, go to a local coffee shop, buy a cuppa, and stay until I’m done. This breaks my work up into logical and manageable chunks and keeps me from mid-day burnout. Sometimes even a little sunshine and fresh air (on my way to/from wherever I’m going for the day, for example) can help to give me a little boost when I need it most.

So keep on keeping on, brave writers! Venture boldly forth and practice, practice, practice.

Alright, Let’s Play

With Shakespeare’s birthday celebrations right around the corner (the known world tends to celebrate on April 23rd though we can only guess at the precise date; this year Shakespeare turns 450!), it’s natural to find a resurgence of Shakespeare-related ephemera on the internet.  This year, a friend of mine unearthed the following buzzfeed article which, in the proud tradition of internet take-downs (and, since I’m a professional paladin of the Bard), I’m going to take a moment to address.

The article’s author, Krystie Lee Yandoll, relates her traumatic childhood experiences with Shakespeare which lead to her adult disdain for the playwright.  Well, Krystie, let’s get real for a few minutes.

I can understand hating Hamlet in sixth grade and, in fact, I wonder at the wisdom of the teacher who presented it to you at that young tender age.  While I have every firm belief in the intellectual capacity of kids, with very few exceptions forced middle school readings of Shakespeare can be nothing but a horrible memory.  I apologize on behalf of Shakespeare professionals everywhere that this was your first experience with the Bard.

But your continued adherence to a blind hatred is nothing less than juvenile.  You go on to explain why reading Taming of the Shrew in high school didn’t appeal to you.  You say, “sure, it’s reflective of the time period it was written in — racial, gender, and sexual equality hadn’t yet reached 16th century England — but that doesn’t make me any more inclined to relish in what I interpret to be Shakespeare’s inherent sexism. If I don’t like reading modern stories and authors that perpetuate sexist ideals about gender, love, and marriage, why should I make an exception for Shakespeare?”  First of all, let’s get something straight; you cannot project your contemporary feminist ideals anachronistically onto a playwright whose worldview had no place for them.  You concede this, but continue on to violate your own conceit.  Stick to your preliminary guns on this one; your first instinct is the right one.

Second, who says that Taming of the Shrew perpetuates sexist ideals?  I would argue that that play portrays men as nothing less than cruel inhuman monsters.  Petruchio is the worst conception of a man when first we meet him and grows only slightly better by the end of the play.  Your determination to hate everything about this has blinded you to the facts: instead of looking at the spark notes, you should have read deeper.  Alright, perhaps you weren’t capable of this in high school, but you’re an adult now.  You can go underneath the text to project different theoretical lenses onto a piece and use your critical thinking skills to uncover readings that were previously not available to you.  But you didn’t do that; and by not doing that, you continue to spout a narrow point of view on the matter which isn’t flattering to your mental capacities.  Unpacking this information to satisfy your modern bias could lead to something more; don’t just give up and cry that this is horrible.

You continue on to claim: “The dominant narrative is, more often than not, determined by society’s elite. I’d rather not put an old, rich, white man from regal Britain and his antiquated ideologies about society on a pedestal.”

There’s a couple problems with this statement.  First and foremost: Shakespeare was neither old nor rich at the time he began his career.  Though he eventually became both (… “old” is still debatable since he died at the age of 52), you can’t project the future onto the past.

Secondly, you’re completely ignoring the history of Shakespeare in the United States (and, for that matter, England).  Shakespeare has always been a people’s playwright; from the groundlings who saw the shows during the seventeenth century, through to the groundlings who see them today.  Nineteenth century America was essentially a hotbed of popular culture Shakespeare.  He was a staple in vaudeville, hugely popular amongst minstrel acts, and stories run rampant about cowboys reciting Macbeth and forty niners walking hours to get to a play at night.  It wasn’t society’s elite that made Shakespeare into The Bard; it was common man (especially here in America).

Third, I wouldn’t say that there’s anything antiquated about Shakespeare “ideologies about society”; we still deal with tyrants (in government and our personal lives), we still deal with warring families (though perhaps not as bad as the Lear or Gloucester families), we still deal with social norms about marriage (when was the last time you saw a debate online about same-sex marriage?  And when was the last time you saw a progressively-cast version of Midsummer?)  Take a closer look and come back to argue when you have some hard evidence.  I’ll be happy to entertain your notions when you actually know what you’re talking about.

You reveal that “every time someone brings up Macbeth or The Tempest, I feel like I have a knot in my stomach because all I ever wanted in the world is to be taken seriously as a writer and lover of literature, and I never thought that could happen if I admitted to my disdain for Shakespeare.”  Frankly, it’s not your disdain for Shakespeare that makes me not take you seriously as a writer; it’s your disdain for the facts and critical thinking.  If this were a well-argued piece, I would have applauded you.  Instead, all I can see is a narrow-minded rant about why your scaring childhood experiences have prevented you from widening your focus to attempt to understand a cultural phenomenon.

You don’t have to like Shakespeare; but if you’re going to argue about him you do have to understand him.

Tweety Bird

I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about social networking recently.  This has led me to believe that perhaps it’s time for a little chat about social networking… again.  You might recall my series on social networking (and if you don’t, it’s totally worth a read… and not just because I wrote it).  I’m not planning to reiterate everything I said there.  I want to talk about twitter today from a slightly more advanced perspective.  There are plenty of blogs devoted to how to set up twitter and get started; I’d like to pick up where those blogs left off.

So, you have a twitter account.  You have the twitter ap.  What the heck do you do with it now?

Think of twitter as a party.  A large, loud party where everyone is shouting at the top of their lungs and has had a little too much to drink so they’re really only half paying attention to the people around them.  Content posted on twitter is extremely ephemeral; like Dorothy says “people come and go so quickly here”.  Because of the LARGE amount of tweeters most people follow on their twitter feed, and because twitter is so quick and easy to update, content scrolls past on an extremely disposal basis.

The key to successful tweeting, then, is virality.  You’re not on twitter because you think that one tweet will change the world (unless your Lady Gaga who has 41,217,143 followers).  You’re on twitter in the hopes that someone else will retweet your content.

Say you have 208 followers (the average number of twitter followers per user, according to Craig Smith).  You tweet something; say a link to your most recent blog post.  At best, that tweet is seen by 208 people.  But, if one of your followers retweets the link, then you can double your audience with one click.  If two of your followers retweet the link, you’ve effectively tripled your audience.  You can snowball your twitter exposure by tweeting retweetable content on a regular basis.

But what’s retweetable content?  Tweet something that’s provocative.  Tweet something that will start a conversation.  Tweet something inordinately witty.

If you’re looking to get someone’s attention, tag them in the tweet.  For instance, if I’m blogging about large theatre companies, I will often tag them in a tweet with a link to my review.  I know that they have more followers than I do and, if I can get them to retweet my link, my exposure suddenly goes through the roof.

If you’re looking for followers, you need to put some serious thought and effort into cultivating relationships.  Technology enables quick communication, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop being a human presence.  The best way to get others invested in your content is to invest in theirs; when you retweet something add a little comment of your own.  “This is great!” or “very interesting!” shows the person you’re retweeting that you A) read the content, B) enjoyed the content, and C) think it’s worth the little extra time

Instagram has encouraged me to take the kinds of pics that I would normally tweet; like this one for instance of my new desk-Will

Instagram has encouraged me to take the kinds of pics that I would normally tweet; like this one for instance of my new desk-Will

to add a personal flair.  The more you do this, the more likely the effort is to be reciprocal.

Start conversations with people.  This is most easily done through the use of hashtags.  Hashtags, for those not down with the lingo, are those hot-linked words in a tweet preceded by the “#” symbol (i.e. #Shakespeare, #Daniprose, #busyday).  Have a look at the trending hashtags (there’s a list of them on the left of your feed if you scroll down a bit) and see if you can’t get in on that conversation somehow with your content.  Hashtags are an easy way to archive your content in a place where like-minded individuals are most likely to find it.

A common question that I’m asked is “how often should I tweet?”.  The answer to this is more than once a day, for sure.  Again, remember how disposable twitter content is.  The more you tweet, the more likely it is that your content will actually be seen.  The most common argument to this is “well I simply don’t have time”.  Tweets are 150 characters; make time if you want a healthy feed.  Install the twitter ap on your smart phone and tweet while you’re standing in line for coffee.  Take pictures on your commute and tweet that.  Remember that a tweet isn’t a commitment to the content, just a commitment to an aesthetic.  If you’re wondering what you should be tweeting, check out some feeds of large organizations or famous personalities upon whom you’d like to model your web presence.  What kinds of things do they tweet?

If you’re wondering whether you’re hitting your tweeting goals, check out your feed every now and again.  Look, honestly, at the content that you post.  Is it interesting?  Is it something you enjoy reading?  Would you follow you?  If the answer is “no”, try to determine why.  Too many retweets without added commentary?  Not enough frequency?  Or is this just not the kind of person you would associate with?  Objectively examining your social networking feeds on a regular basis is a healthy practice; you need to know how you come off if you’re looking to improve your web presence!

So tweet away, tweet-verse; experiment!  Grow, prosper!  Now, gods, stand up for tweeters!

Books Don’t Keep you Warm

Here is your obligatory complaining about the weather post: on Tuesday it was warm enough for a run outside.  Today I’m going to have to shovel my driveway before I leave for class.  Because I live in New England.

I’ve spent the week looking yearningly out of windows and hoping that the words “Spring Break” would actually mean something to the weather gods.  Unfortunately for me, the weather gods are tricksy jerks and care not for a university schedule, or even the pleas of a desperate doctoral candidate looking for some small way to salvage what’s left of her sanity.

On that note, I don’t know why I’m continually surprised at the revivifying quality that exercise has on my mind.  No matter how many times I prove it to be true, I am consistently astounded by the fact that if I go for some kind of physical activity right at the point when my eyes get bloobity and I can’t really read/comprehend what’s on the page in front of me, an hour later I’m raring to go again.  This re-realization only compounds my yearning for the warmer weather; convincing myself to go outside for an hour is so much easier when “outside” is a pleasant place to be.  I do break down and move my workouts indoors during inclement weather, but even walking from my door to the gym can sometimes be a fight when it’s bitter and leaky out there.

If anyone knows anyone who has a hookup with someone who can make spring come faster here in Massachusetts, I’d be ever so grateful.  I’m plumb tired of being cold.

Dissertation work is draining, and my book fort doesn’t seem to be moving one way or another.  This is mostly due to the fact that the minute I manage to reduce my “to read”

artistic desk shot.  This doesn't really expound the extent of the book fort, but it does look pretty.

artistic desk shot. This doesn’t really expound the extent of the book fort, but it does look pretty.

pile to workable number, I get another dose of ILL books from the library and stack them on top again.  Despite diligently hacking away at the pile on my desk (which at one point this week was tall enough to literally bury me), I’m still surrounded by things that need to be read.

I suppose I should look at the other end for any indication of real progress: it is true that my “have read” book fort is steadily growing larger.  It has, at this point, expanded to the point of walling me into my desk.  I have to traverse an obstacle course before I can actually sit down these days.  The scary part is that I haven’t even really begun to work on the bulk of the project; I’m still just picking at the edges.  I suppose that means I’ve chosen a topic ripe for exploration, but it does leave me a wee bit nervous about just how many library books I’m going to be held accountable for before this is all over.

And that’s not even to consider the archival work ahead of me.  I’ve identified piles upon piles of things that I’ll have to sort through; but at least those items won’t follow me home.  Well, they will, but in neatly sifted digitized form so that they won’t take up any room on my floor (just on my hard drive).

And on that note, it’s time to re-launch today’s attack upon Research Mountain.  Wish me luck!

 

I Would Prefer To: Scrivener

As any crafter, home improver, or DIYer will tell you, having the right tool for the job makes the job a lot easier.

And, dear internet, I’ve been writing papers with the wrong tools for so long.

Basically I’ve had access to a sledgehammer and a machete when what I needed was a jeweler’s hammer and a surgeon’s scalpel.  Microsoft word is many things and it’s a workhorse of a program.  Basically anything you want to do you can somehow find a way to make it do.  In terms of text manipulation and the actual process of word processing, it’s got many great features (tables of contents, version control, find and replace, text manipulation capabilities, etc.), but for a research paper it’s so not the tool for the job.  At least, not the way I write.

Most writers are lateral thinkers.  You’ve definitely heard me expound upon the beauty of lateral thinking before, so I don’t feel a need to go into it here.  Basically, we (of necessity) hold many different bits of information in our mind at one time in order to forge new thoughts and ideas on the page.  What this means is you’re juggling a lot of things at once: references (both bibliographic and visual), notes, facts, timelines, inspiration, and a host of your own thoughts.  I work with a dual monitor set-up on a Mac, so I can keep a lot of windows open at once, but it’s often inconvenient to have to bounce back and forth between windows when the information I need could be gracefully compiled side-by-side in one place if I had the right interface for it.

Well, it turns out that they make the right interface for it.  It’s called Scrivener and it’s my new best friend.  While it definitely ran me a chunk of change ($45 for software is nothing to sniff at when you’re living on a grad school budget), I consider the investment worthwhile in just the last week of playing with the tool.

My best beloved turned me on to the software and introduced me to the notion.  It’s apparently something that novel-writers swear by (and I can definitely see why).  In fact, Scrivener is so awesome that they even offer a one-month trial version for folks participating in NaNoWriMo every year.  I can’t imagine writing one large project on this and then being without it; I’m absolutely certain that the good folks at Scrivener make a ton of business that way.

I was resistant at first.  It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and the Scrivener help files are long and a bit arduous to get through.  Scrivener will automatically open up to a tutorial upon your first usage after installs, and that tutorial will take you some time to get through.  Consider it an easy-access pass to the yellow brick road; a small time investment will definitely save you in the future.

I think the best feature for me is that I can see, as I go, the accumulation of what I’ve

In center, my research notes.  At right, you can see my comments; each comment is a new source.  I can auto-jump to that source by clicking in to the comment.

In center, my research notes. At right, you can see my comments; each comment is a new source. I can auto-jump to that source by clicking in to the comment.

done.  If I set up my comments correctly, I can see how many sources I’ve already compiled (and in what category so I know where I’m weak without having to dig through all of my notes).  Since I’m currently embroiled in preliminary Prospectus research, this is HUGE to what I’m doing right now.  Additionally, I can file multiple documents in one project; my notes are thus auto-sorted as I research, and I can swap back and forth between them with extreme ease.

Another feature I absolutely love is the ability to embed images in a project.  If I happen upon a broadside or picture in a reference book that I’d like to include in my notes, it’s incredibly easy to do so (I generally snap a shot with my cell phone camera, which auto-syncs to my dropbox, and then I can just drop the image into the scrivener folder and link it within the text).  I don’t have to fiddle with dimensions (as in word), or worry about text wrapping or layering.  The image is just there for me to look at when I need to see it.

Corkboard View of my current prospectus research

Corkboard View of my current prospectus research

One of the selling points for me was “corkboard view”.  Each document has a set of notes you can file alongside it, and when you drop into corkboard view the document is represented by an index card.  You can move the index cards around with drag-and-drop to visually rearrange how your material will be presented.  I can picture how wonderful this is going to be when I start drafting chapters; I can even break those chapters up into sections and drag/drop my material as I write it.  As I’ve said before, I’m a tactile learner which makes the vast amount of reading/writing/research I do extremely difficult; this kind of interface really jives with my learning style and helps to de-conceptualize my writing.

Another great feature is custom meta-data tagging.  Within each document, you can specify meta-data fields that can help with search functionality later.  Scrivener provides a robust search interface (which really means that it will search many different parameters to find the data you’re looking for).  Essentially, the more ways you label your writing, the easier it will be for you to find what you need.  I can also see this coming in handy when generating an index.  You know.  For WAY in the future when that sort of thing is a part of my life.

On the whole, Scrivener has made me excited to write.  This, as you may or may not know, is a HUGE hurdle in actually getting your work done.  Experimenting with the program’s features and finding new ways to make my life easier has made dragging myself to my desk in the morning a task rather than a chore, and if there’s anything that will make life easier it’s inspiring the impetus to work.  When I get going, I’m always fine (my work is fascinating and I love doing it), but climbing to my desk is an uphill battle.  Scrivener has made it that much easier to ascend Everest, and it’s definitely making organization a pleasure.

I would highly recommend giving this program a shot; especially if you’re struggling with keeping your dissertation material in a format that’s not overwhelming.

Blogging; And You

As I’ve kept this blog over the years, I’ve had many different reactions from my peers and mentors about my ability to remain consistent with it.

Some have expressed that it’s an odd experience to read the blog.  I’ve been told that being in the room during an event then later reading my description of the happening is a touch surreal (I can understand how this might be true).

By and large, the most common reaction that I’ve been privy to is an incredulity at my ability to keep writing and my ability to find time to devote to this project.

I will be honest, writing has almost never been a struggle.  I’m a writer.  Writers want to write.  I have, sometimes, found myself awash with a plethora of possibilities for blog content, and sometimes I have been in the blogging doldrums with nothing that I can really relate.  I’ve also been in the situation where I’m dealing with something that I would love to craft a blog post about it, but for political or personal reasons I am not able to at that given moment.  Sometimes, I’m able to shelve these ideas for later use.  More often than not, I have to consent that I will be unable to put my thoughts into writing about an issue at hand in a public forum until I have tenure and, at that point, the issue will (hopefully) be rendered moot.

Throughout my early PhD experience, writing was an important exercise for me.

One of my Dissertation Personalities; American Actor Lester Wallack.  WHAT A MUSTACHE!

One of my Dissertation Personalities; American Actor Lester Wallack. WHAT A MUSTACHE!

During coursework, you can spend a whole semester without writing a single page, then be expected to spit out at least 100 pages of pristine, intelligent, and interesting writing at the semester’s end.  This doesn’t set a very sustainable pace for the tasks ahead.

During my comps prep, writing was important because it kept me on-task, and gave me the practice of spitting out focused content in a small time window.  One of the skills which these exams test, but is extremely difficult to study for, is your ability to craft a cogent piece of writing under extreme stress and pressure.  I’ve known that, for some of my forbearers, this was the most stressful portion of the exam.  Because I’m used to creating such content blasts (thanks to my writing here), it was the least of my concerns.

Now that I’m into dissertation work, writing is more important than ever.  Unfortunately, it’s even harder than it used to be to push myself to do it.

You see, this process is a long and drawn out one.  It’s a process of thinking BIG DEEP THOUGHTS over a substantial period of time.  As such, I’m engaged in work that doesn’t necessarily leave me with cogent bits of information at the end of the day.  Blog posts require something that can be discussed in a certain space.  The things that I’m currently entrenched in are long, drawn-out battles… and not ones that I’m necessarily willing to share.  As much as I would love to live in an open-source world, Intellectual Property is a real and ever-present element of any academic’s work.  Especially an unpublished graduate student.  I really can’t let you in on my research process in detail that’s too great, which is really a pity because (trust me) it’s fascinating.

So as much as I’d love to share my triumphs and tribulations as I go along, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to stick to the abstract for the moment… and for the foreseeable future.

In terms of finding time to blog, I can’t articulate how worthwhile an exercise this is.  I’ve given you some reasons above as to why this might be.  If you’re currently writing a dissertation and NOT actually doing any writing on a weekly basis (it may sound weird to an outsider, but trust me it’s very easy to do), I can’t recommend the experience of blogging highly enough.  It helps to order your thoughts and keep you together.  It allows you to achieve small goals throughout the week, and that will create a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment your work often lacks since your large goals are a long ways off.  Blogging is a great way to give you structure (which, as we all know, is key to any work regime, especially a free-form one like dissertation work).  And, at the risk of sounding like a romantic, it’s sometimes nice to have a physical manifestation of your work and time to look back upon.

Even if you don’t choose to share your thoughts in an open public forum, you should consider a journal, or a private blog, or just somewhere to put a collection of your writing as you go through this process.  It might be worth something to you someday, and the process is definitely worth something to you right now.

Back Into the Fray

First of all: hi!  I’m back!  My much-needed break was much-needed, but being back is a vital portion of keeping myself afloat with my studies.  While I was away, I came across several things that I think would make great posts (don’t worry, those ideas are all safely tucked away under my cap), but none that made me more angry than this blog post I stumbled across while mucking about on facebook.

Paul Mullin is a Seattle-based self-professed “recovering playwright”.  And apparently in 2011 he had some things to say about my man Will.  Let’s start here: go read Mullin’s post; otherwise what I’m about to say is not going to make any sense.

Mullin writes with all the bitterness of a contemporary playwright whose works have been sidelined for more “classical” material.  One of the many things I took issue with in this blog is the tacit assumption that Shakespeare is, in Mullin’s words, a “cash cow” that theatres return to in order to support their other repertory.  This is, at least in this country, absolutely not the case.  Except for very rare circumstances (most of those being Shakespeare-specific companies), Shakespeare is not a moneymaker.  If you want to look at cash cows, cast your gaze to the American musical.  I guarantee you that the odd foray into Grease or Rent will gross a theatre more dollars than the pet-project Hamlet.

A pretty shot of the lobby at Trinity Rep.  Because I've got nothing else to put here, and I love this picture I managed to get.

A pretty shot of the lobby at Trinity Rep. Because I’ve got nothing else to put here, and I love this picture I managed to get.

Next; let’s tackle Mullin’s primary thesis: “Shakespeare would hate us”.  In Mullin’s world, Shakespeare comes via time machine (DeLorean, TARDIS, or otherwise) to the twenty-first century, stays for a while, and has a few things to say about the theatre scene here.  All of them are bad.  Shakespeare, contends Mullin, would hate everything about being a working American playwright and many things about the theatre scene in general.

The bottom line is this: Shakespeare would have no sense of perspective about the twenty-first century American Theatre scene, even if he could somehow magically be transported here to stay for a while.  There is nothing about any of the things that Mullin takes issue with via his Shakespeare avatar that Shakespeare could have even hoped to fathom as making sense.  Saying that Shakespeare would hate us is like saying that Jane Austen was a feminist – there is no cultural context for these people from their own times to have the modern interpretations of opinion which we impress upon them from our 20/20 historical hindsight.  The world, after all, has changed a lot in the past four hundred years.

These kinds of arguments (and I see my fair share of them) recursively glamourize the same unchanging past that they strive to break free from.  By romanticizing the Bardic Avatar, we create a Shakespeare who judges from his untouched perch at the heart of historical perfection.  By putting the ultimate judgment about our theatre today in the hands of a long-dead playwright, we give that playwright the authority over our theatre.  In this way, we privilege Shakespeare’s stage as some kind of perfection which we have strayed away from.  This, you will note, is exactly what Mullin is explicitly attempting to fight as the first half of his post is dedicated to establishing a theatre outside of Shakespeare.  In struggling to remove the agency from Shakespeare’s hands, Mullin strays right back to them.

Another issue I have with this article is a purely historical one.  Mullin’s facts are, for the most part, blatantly wrong.  His assumptions are formed around some few elementary notions about the Elizabethan theatre which don’t hold up to careful scrutiny: that all Elizabethan playwrights were actors (not the case; Thomas Kyd and John Lyly just to name a few off the cuff who put pen to page but never acted professionally), that Shakespeare spoke as eloquently as he wrote (where can we even begin to prove this?  Anecdotal evidence: does everyone you know speak exactly like they write?), that “new” plays were and ought to be privileged over “old” plays in Elizabeth’s London (… because the Elizabethans surely didn’t worship old material.. you know… like any of the stuff they ripped plots from on a regular basis).

What really gets me going is when people try to put words in Will’s mouth.  Mullin’s most

Adventuring in Boston

Adventuring in Boston

blatant instance of this occurs when he claims: “Shakespeare may have envied his social superiors, but he also knew at his core he was better than them”…. Uh…. What?  I can’t even fathom where the seed of this information is coming from.  How is it even possible to ascertain this from the few facts we have about Shakespeare’s life, none of which come from Shakespeare himself?  Making any statement about how Shakespeare “felt” about anything is far-fetched at best, but this is flat out fantastical thinking worthy of a set of wings and a magic wand.

So can we stop dredging him up to put words in his mouth?  Can we talk about him and not for him?  Meaningful conversation can only be placed upon a firm foundation of fact.  Lacking that, all we have is opinion.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love for someone to unearth Shakespeare’s diary from the bindings of some age-old book; but until then let’s not speak for him.  It’ll only anger his already-restless spirit and make him devour us all-the-quicker when he takes over the world as a super zombie (…hey, if you can fantasize about Shakespeare’s afterlife, then so can I).

Reputation, Reputation, Reputation!

Alright, so you’ve done some thinking about the cardinal rules of the internet.  You have an understanding of social networking platforms.  Now you need to figure out who you want to be online.

No, seriously, that’s really important.

The internet persona is the projected image of yourself that you put on the internet.  Through a combination of social media, blogging, and strategic web page contributions, you can curate an online presence which projects a very specific image of who you are.  This image can have as much (or little) to do with reality as you deem appropriate for your chosen objective.

These days, curating an online presence is an extension of creating a marketable resume.  Because trust me, one of the first thing your potential employer is going to do when your resume hits her desk is google your name.  So what is she going to find there?  Pictures of you making stupid life choices in your undergrad, or information to support the notion that you’re a responsible and respected professional in your chosen field?

This is the first image that pops up in google when you search my name (that's because it's my google+ profile pic); know how your networking effects your search results.

This is the first image that pops up in google when you search my name (that’s because it’s my google+ profile pic); know how your networking effects your search results.

Now.  This isn’t to say that you can’t have multiple online personas (you can); you will just need to be extremely careful at the personal information you share with each social networking platform (and keep clever track of your online dossiers).  Often times, even if your full name or e-mail isn’t available in a public profile, it can still be linked via meta-data to whatever network you are currently using.  So if you want to do the alter ego thing, you really need to be on top of who you are where and what your privacy settings look like at each port of call.

Personally, I think it’s just easier to keep my digital nose clean.  My job is the biggest extension of my personality anyway, and often the quirky personal details that I use to spiff up this blog, my twitter feed, and certainly my facebook lend credence to my framing argument: hire me because I’m passionate, knowledgeable, and (literally) live for this.

I do realize that I’m a special case.  I happen to love my chosen vocation and, even if I wasn’t getting paid to do it, I’d still be involved with it.  You can take the girl out of the theatre, but you can’t take the theatre out of the girl.  Additionally, theatre (and academia) are both life-devotions rather than professions.  I don’t have regular set hours, I am basically on-call all the time, and I never really “walk away” or leave my work “at work” because there’s actually no way to.  I will always be thinking about my research.  I will always be grinding on my next project.  My brain doesn’t compartmentalize very well.

Even if you function under more conventional rules of “work”, you should consider your web presence to be an extension of your professional self.  What qualities does your industry require to be the most successful in it?  What personal flair do you bring to a project?  What does your industry value in a worker?

This is not to say that your online persona should be a robot-you single-mindedly programmed to do nothing but work; far from it.  Your online persona should be personable; human.  Just a human built to do the job that you want to do.

Does your industry require tenacity?  Straightforwardness?  Verve?  What is it that makes people want to work with you in your industry?  What can you offer to a project that no one else can?  If you can figure out how to answer these questions, you can begin to craft a persona that exhibits these qualities.

Where would someone in your industry be expected to hang out?  Do in their free time?  Think about how your leisure activities reflect upon your human aspects (for instance: you will notice an inordinate number of tweets on my feed about going to the library, grading, and otherwise working on things…. That’s by design, folks).  What are the kinds of things that someone in your industry would be expected to notice from the places you go?  The

I am, for instance, the type who takes pictures of beautiful libraries (yes, this is a public library)

I am, for instance, the type who takes pictures of beautiful libraries (yes, this is a public library)

architecture?  The marketing potential?  Find a way to cleverly insert your observations into your tweets, facebook posts, instagram pics.

Social networking is a careful game of show and tell.  You assemble the pieces of a puzzle to resemble what you want to show people.  Sometimes, one piece out of place can get glossed over (perhaps one less-than-appropriate tweet).  Sometimes, the egregiousness of an already problematic infraction multiplies into proportions which swallow the rest of your public image (see: the recent Steven Taylor Twitter racism scandal http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/steven-taylor-could-charged-fa-6310354 ).  But this shouldn’t be a problem for you since you’re following rule one of the internet, right?  RIGHT?

Know Thy Platforms

One size does not fit all with social networking.  While it’s true that anything put on the internet becomes public domain, you should always keep in mind the forum which you are using.  Different platforms lend themselves to different kinds of information sharing (and different degrees of privacy).  Here are the ones I use and here are some general tips about using them:

Platform: Twitter

Privacy options: nominal; Twitter is the most public (and the most viral) of social networking.  Since re-tweeting is so easy and micro-blogs published via twitter are so digestible, a single tweet can travel pretty far.  Additionally, without toggling the one privacy option (you can opt to “protect your tweets” and only show them to approved followers, not allow them to be retweeted, and bar them from being crawled by google), your feed is visible to everyone, whether they follow you or not.

Ephemerality:  Since twitter is so easy to update, information appears and disappears

Twitter also encourages me to take shots like this so I can tweet them at the University.  Look at the campus being gorgeous and autumny!

Twitter also encourages me to take shots like this so I can tweet them at the University. Look at the campus being gorgeous and autumny!

quickly via this platform.  It’s extremely easy for a tweet to get buried in a busy feed (unless it’s been re-shared many times over in which case you’re relying upon virality to keep the information available rather than any platform-supported permanence).

 Contribution to your web presence: HUGE.  Since google crawls and re-crawls twitter, frequent tweeting can help to boost your SEO (google my name for example and see how high my twitter profile is on the hit-list; as well as how many items there are twitter influenced).

Things I generally use it for: witty one-liners, quick news updates, sharing pictures, publicizing blog posts, interesting links, networking at events (it’s a lot easier to connect with someone when you have an established twitter rapport than if you’re going in cold).

Things I never use it for: extremely personal items (my students actively follow me on twitter), reproducing unpublished work (my own or another’s; this is particularly important to remember when live-tweeting conference papers)

 Guiding analogy: Posting on twitter is like yelling something into a room crowded with all of your friends, family, coworkers, and potential future bosses: you never know what portion of it they will hear so you’d better keep it safe and interesting.

Platform: Facebook

Privacy options: Some.  You can adjust who sees which sections of your profile by way of creating lists and jiggering your privacy options.  For instance; only certain subsets of my friends lists can see pictures I am tagged in; I keep some status updates semi-public (available to the lists I specify).  This does require a time devotion because you need to go through and listify your five hundred something previous friends, but once you’ve set this up it require relatively little maintenance.

Ephemerality:  Medium.  Due to facebook’s constantly changing news list sort algorithm, only certain things will appear in certain feeds.  That being said, once they’re up those pictures last FOREVER.  I would highly recommend that you keep particularly your photographic facebook presence highly guarded, and highly professional.  If you have any silly shots of yourself that you want to post, make sure that you figure out who you really want to give access to before you post them.

Contribution to your web presence: some; it won’t readily pop up in a google search (especially if you have a lot of other things there), but it’s definitely a way to establish a digital network.

Things I generally use it for: Neat links, sharing pictures, status updates that are longer than 150 characters, crowd-sourcing casual queries (“hey guys, who studied at X actor training institution and what did you think?”), interacting with the latest news or buzzfeeds, contacting individuals without having to acquire their cell numbers and/or opening an e-mail client (really useful at conferences).

pictures like this should probably be locked down.  You know; the ones that are silly but maybe not 100% professional... unless you're a fight director in which case it's your job to play with arms and armor (see?  See what I did there?)

pictures like this should probably be locked down. You know; the ones that are silly but maybe not 100% professional… unless you’re a fight director in which case it’s your job to play with arms and armor (see? See what I did there?)

Things I never use it for: personal items that I am not comfortable sharing with a roomful of friends (and I am ALWAYS careful when I share personal items via the internet anyway because you just never know who will wind up seeing them), public messages which should be private (“Dear Housemate, let me passive aggressively post a status about something you did which bugs me so that all my (and your) friends can see it and judge you for it rather than talking to you directly like a reasonable human being”), news which I’m not ready to go viral (I have a short list of people that I tell big news items to before posting them on facebook).

 Guiding analogy: Posting on facebook is like whispering something in a sorority house; no matter how you modulate your voice or how many promises of privacy you wring from the recipient, the information is undoubtedly going to be given to everyone around you in a matter of days whether you want people to know it or not.

Platform: Instagram

Privacy options: Nominal.  You can have one of two profiles: very public (default), or private (which means that only approved followers can see and follow your posts).

 Ephemerality:  Reasonably permanent.  Instagram photos are crawled by google which

Instagram has also, unfortunately, made me the kind of person who takes pictures of my beer.

Instagram has also, unfortunately, made me the kind of person who takes pictures of my beer.

means that they are almost impossible to get rid of.  You can delete them purposefully, but once they’re out there they’re really out there.

 Contribution to your web presence: Nominal.  Even though my instagram account is linked to my full name, it barely registers on google searches (even google image searches).

Things I generally use it for: Pictures.  Duh.  Instagram is, honestly, rather new to me.  I mostly use it to get my artiste kicks out (and because I’ve recently become obsessed with the iPhone 5’s photography capabilities).

Things I never use it for: Pictures that are criminal/inappropriate, anything I would take issue with being projected on a wall behind me while I was giving a conference paper.  I don’t tend to post pictures of myself (simply because I see my instagram feed as an art project rather than a vanity project), but I wouldn’t have a particular objection to someone posting pictures of me so long as they were reasonably professional.

Guiding analogy: Posting on Instagram is like leaving your photo album on the table of a popular doctor’s office; you have no idea who is going to look, but you’d better not put anything in there that you regret.

Platform: Blogging

 Privacy options: Depends on your platform; if you use a pre-made blogging service (like livejournal), you can lock it down pretty easily.  However, if you’re using an independently operated blog, the general idea is for it to be a public forum.

Ephemerality:  Extremely permanent.  You always have the option to take down or hide posts which aren’t working for some reason, but really consider that whatever you put up there is going to be a lasting record until either you or your blog service choose to remove it.

Contribution to your web presence: Huge; especially if you’re a regular/frequent blogger.  Google crawls and re-crawls sites according to an algorithm that fluctuates based on many factors (among these are the instances of new content with each crawl).  Essentially, if google’s spider finds that your site is different on this crawl than on its last crawl, it will flag the next crawl to occur at a shorter interval then the last one.  In short: content makes SEO.  Update regularly, update frequently, and don’t update with identical information.

Things I generally use it for: If you are reading this, you don’t need glasses.

Things I never use it for: Extremely personal information (seeing a trend here?), actually generally personal information (I keep things here well within a crafter persona… more on that in the next post of this series), things that deviate from my theme (that theme being graduate school, Shakespeare, and theatre in general; sometimes divulging into what it’s like to be a woman in academia).

 Guiding analogy: Posting a blog is like keeping a diary in a public-access library: it’s there whenever for whomever to pick up and read, and it’s going to last until someone tears out or burns up a page.

I am purposefully leaving Pinterest off this list.  While I know that it’s technically social networking, to me pinterest has always seem like a time-kill or video game rather than anything else.  Also, I still don’t understand my pinterest privacy options, so I’d have a hard time explaining them to you.  Just stick to the general rules of the internet and you’ll be fine.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series: developing and cultivating an online persona.

Cheers!

School’s out for Summer

Yesterday, I attended the last class of my PhD.

This isn’t to be confused with completing coursework (which won’t happen until my papers are all firmly nestled into the appropriate inboxes, a momentous occasion which will occur next Wednesday) and, really, knowing me I won’t be satisfied until the grades all pop up on my transcript affirming, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this is (in fact) real.

The class was a five-hour lecture wrapping up my ancient theatre course.  This particular lecture covered Sturm und Drang, Weimar Classicism, and Romanticism.  It also included a “presentation” I had prepped on Goethe’s relationship with Shakespeare (I put “presentation” in quotation marks because it wasn’t a “talk at the class for x amount of time” kinda deal but rather a “do a lot of reading and act as a pop-up video as we discuss the course reading” sort of thing).  This class wasn’t a small deal at all.

But I survived.  The class ended with the professor making a few profound remarks about

Yup.  It's me.  Slaying zombie Shakespeare.  Because I roll that way.

Yup. It’s me. Slaying zombie Shakespeare. Because I roll that way.

how far we had come and it took all my self-restraint not to stand up in my chair and yet “AMEN TO THAT!”  For me, she wasn’t just talking about her course (though certainly we had come a long way there), but rather the progression of my graduate career at Tufts.  Two academic years ago, I was sitting in a room, terrified, and waiting for someone to stand up, point at me, and shout “you don’t belong here!” before systematically evicting me from the premises never to return again.  That feeling of being a fraud, not worthy of the opportunities allotted me in my career, has faded over time.  I’ve learned so many things these past two years; some quantifiable, some not.

Among the other things I’m proud of, here’s a reasonably superficial list in terms of its breadth and depth, but it should at least give you some idea of the way I’ve changed as a scholar since my wide-eyed arrival at Tufts University:

I’ve learned how to gain access to (and dig through) an archive.  I’ve learned how to cite the sources that I find there and use them in a paper that I may, someday, publish.

I’ve learned how to get on a plane to a city I’ve never been and be totally comfortable (if a little nervous the first time or two) spending two to four days networking my little Shakespearean heart out with people whom I have never met before, and may be Top Men in my field.

I’ve learned how to write better, how to read better, and how to think better.

I’ve learned about playwrights I’d never though I’d read, performances I’d never known existed, and theorists I’d never hoped to “meet”.

I’ve learned how to talk about my own work in a way that isn’t a snooze-fest (though this will depend upon the audience, of course.  Even I can’t make the deep technical aspects of some of my research appeal to everyone).

I’ve learned to read and translate German (…though this is a skill that I’ll be cultivating for some time).

I’ve learned that when in doubt, just look.  And when looking doesn’t help you, just ask.  There are always people there to turn to.

I’ve learned that it’s amazing what people will do/reveal when you ask them questions.  So many people are willing to be so generous with their time if you’re just nice to them.

Yesterday's theory board doodle

Yesterday’s theory board doodle

I’ve learned that reference librarians are veritable deities and should be worshiped as such.

I’ve learned that it’s not enough to think, you must do.  Touch the ground and your work will always have more depth and meaning.  This means it’s not enough just to think about theatre; go see theatre.  Make theatre.  Get your hands dirty.  If we forget why we fell in love with the field in the first place, there’s no way that we’re going to last in it (and there’s no way that we’re going to make our students love it).

I’ve learned that just because it’s obvious to you does not mean that it’s obvious to anyone else, or that it does not need to be said.  And, moreover, if you don’t say it, someone else will.  Jump on it, take credit for your ideas, and you’ll go much further than if you just simper and mull them to yourself.

…this list could continue ad infinitum but I’ve still got a paper to write.  I hope that your finals are treating you well, you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and that you can take some time today to remember why it is (precisely) that you do this.

…or you could just watch this: